Queer-Storytelling Quadfecta in Halifax this weekend

tomStewart Legere in Tom at the Farm, the Atlantic Canadian premiere of Michel Marc Bouchard’s drama, at the Bus Stop Theatre, Halifax, today and Sunday, 4 and 8 p.m., with $5 rush tickets for any LGBTQ+ folks five minutes before every show. (Tee Johnny)

The U.S. elected its first openly gay governor Tuesday and, this weekend in Halifax, there is a quadfecta of queer storytelling with three plays and one art show.

The world premiere of KAMP — A New Musical, an unforgettable, locally-made, full-length musical about gay prisoners struggling to hang onto their souls through art in a Nazi concentration camp, is sold out for its final weekend.

With music and lyrics by GaRRy Williams and book by Jamie Bradley, the Neptune Theatre/Eastern Front co-production has an amazing cast of 11 featuring Shawn Wright in a fabulous performance as the central Gustav/Luna; a remarkably grim, forbidding set; an intricate, imaginative use of movement; mind-blowing music; tight, passionate direction by Eastern Front Theatre’s artistic producer Sam Rosenthal, and a searing story – rooted in historical fact – that sticks with you like peanut butter in a dog’s throat.

Neptune Theatre’s artistic director Jeremy Webb says KAMP would “likely” have been extended but another show goes into the studio space Monday (the already sold-out YpCo’S Les Miserables School Edition.)

KAMP - A Musical - Dress-110Jake Willett, Robert Clarke, Clint Butler, Shawn Wright and Josh Doig in KAMP — A New Musical, at Neptune’s studio theatre. (Stoo Metz)

“We are meeting today to discuss the next stages for the production,” he said Saturday. “We all believe it needs some more work now we have seen it with an audience. I’m sure this won’t be the last that you’ll see of the show.”

Over at the Bus Stop Theatre, 22013 Gottingen St., is Workshirt Opera’s Atlantic Canadian premiere of Michel Marc Bouchard’s Tom at the Farm – winner of the 2014 Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Drama – in a short run with shows at 4 and 8 today and Sunday. (Matinees are PWYC; tickets at tickethalifax.)

This play about a gay man whose deceased partner’s family knows nothing about him has a stellar Halifax cast of Stewart Legere (Merritt Award winner), Shelley Thompson (ACTRA, FIN and Merritt Award winner), Sébastien Labelle (Merritt Award nominee) and Stephanie MacDonald (Merritt Award winner).

When Tom goes to a remote farm to attend the funeral, he becomes tangled in a web of lies. “It’s a portrait of a family in mourning, and the lengths they will go to protect a lie. It’s darkly funny, poetic and always surprising,” says director Michael Lake.

Real women’s stories of queer birthing experiences in rural N.S. hospitals are on stage today, 8 p.m., and Sunday, 2 and 8 p.m., in What To Expect When You Aren’t Expected at the Museum of Natural History Auditorium, 1747 Summer St., Halifax.

Playwright/director Annie Valentina worked with verbatim text in a cross-section of stories gathered by Dalhousie School of Nursing professors Dr. Lisa Goldberg and Dr. Megan Aston for their scientific report (http://qrbnsandbeyond.ca/). In the cast are Annie LaPlante, Koumbie, Emily Shute and Sophie Schade. (Admission is a suggested $10 to $20 donation.)

If you can get to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia at all this weekend, you must see the mammoth Miss Chief’s Wet Dream by famous Cree artist Kent Monkman, on view only through Sunday. THEN, you have to up to the third floor for Monkman’s fabulous, humorous and, heartbreaking, multi-room show Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience, on view through Dec. 16.

Miss Chief’s Wet Dream, which is  .5 by 3.5 metres and the size of a small housefront, is Monkman’s provocative tale of a grey, dying Old World meeting a vibrant  New World.

Monkman was inspired by Théodore Géricault’s Raft of Medusa and Eugène Delacroix’s Christ at Sea  to depict a sinking raft of colonial figures like Queen Victoria, Marie Antoinette, a plague doctor, even Jesus Christ, coming in contact with a canoe full of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Lying in that canoe is Monkman’s queer alter-ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, in her trademark high heels.

The Donald R. Sobey Foundation bought the painting for the gallery. It will go on permanent exhibit in the same spot (first floor of the old building) after the exhibit, Jordan Bennett: Ketu’elmita’jik, Dec. 1 to March 31, 2019.

Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience, created as a critique of Canada’s 150th, is an amazing journey through life-size dioramas, large paintings with a slew of art historical references from Paul Kane to Picasso and artefacts.  Monkman tells you everything you need to know – from an indigenous perspective of pain and perception – about the last 150 years of indigenous history in Canada.

Miss Chief's Wet Dream (2018)Kent Monkman’s Miss Chief’s Wet Dream, purchased for the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia by the Donald R. Sobey Foundation, on view this weekend before being taken down, then re-installed permanently in the spring, 2019.

Mary Vingoe’s Some Blow Flutes: deeply moving, honest, rewarding theatre

Home First - Some Blow Flutes-39 Hugh Thompson as Costas and Francine Deschepper as Sandra in the premiere of Mary Vingoe’s Some Blow Flutes, at the Bus Stop Theatre, Halifax, through Nov. 4.  (Stoo Metz) 

I am at an age when – like many people – I have raised a teen, cared for a parent with Alzheimer’s and lived with grief in the loss of both parents.

SO, I needed a lot of Kleenex for Mary Vingoe’s Some Blow Flutes, an intense, powerful, deeply moving play that hits at the truth of human experience on many different levels with a glimmer of the hope human connection at the end.

This 80-minute production has a great Halifax cast; a beautiful, taut structure and Sue LePage’s amazing, highly-detailed, elongated set that splits the Bus Stop Theatre in two. The audience sits on either side of a sitting room stuffed with objects, an amorphous central space where two, troubled teens meet and a dimly-lit warren of a shoe shop at the far end.

Vingoe, also the director, cleverly intersects the lives of people at different ages in her poetic and painful exploration of the devastation of Alzheimer’s disease, different types of loss and human struggle within relationships.

The churlish cobbler from Greece, Costas, is not coping with a mysteriously ill wife and a dark family secret.

Into his cluttered shop steps the middle-aged, glamorous shoe fanatic, Sandra, a professional organizer with a very messy life. Their unusual – often humourous – connection is rooted in buried loneliness and self-doubt.

Hugh Thompson is amazing as Costas in terms of his accent, anger, deep pain and comedic irritation over things like the poor quality of synthetic shoes. Francine Deschepper is striking as Sandra in a beautifully nuanced, crystal-clear portrayal of a flawed person desperate to maintain a relationship with her daughter.

Key to this production is Mary-Colin Chisholm in her poignant portrayal of Elena, an aging, British immigrant with the recognizable behaviours of Alzheimer’s and glimmers of a radiant, loving and imaginative personality.

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Mary-Colin Chisholm as Elena. (Stoo Metz)

The troubled teens carry all the obsessions and fears of youth but also a hope for the future. Gina Thornhill is flinty and beautiful as Marijke, a teen in crisis, while Ailsa Galbreath is solid and emotive as her less glamorous, more grounded best friend.  Vingoe has the teen language, angst and self-obsession down very well.

Some Blow Flutes takes place over Halloween, which suits this play. Late October, with the dying back of nature and the falling of leaves, is a time when people reflect on (and fear) death. Also, Costas, Sandra and Marijke are in a state of disguising and denying the truth in their lives.

LePage, as costume designer, rises to the challenge of great thematic Halloween costumes for the teens. She is part of a 17-member design and production team including composition and sound designer Steven Naylor, lighting designer Vicky Williams (whose lighting is very fine within challenging parameters), projection designer Nick Bottomley, production and stage manager Sylvia Bell and Greek language consultant Theo Pitsiavas.

There is a Halloween contest (https://www.facebook.com/HomeFirstTheatre) with the prize of tickets to Wednesday’s show and $50 in gift cards to The Wooden Monkey.

Some Blow Flutes runs to Saturday, Nov. 3, 8 p.m., with the final show Sunday, Nov. 4, 2 p.m. The Nov. 3 matinee is ASL interpreted. Tickets are sold through tickethalifax.com.

The production company, HomeFirst Theatre, was founded by Vingoe and playwright Colleen Wagner in 2010 to produce Atlantic Canadian theatre of social and/or political importance.  This is the company’s fourth world premiere and fifth production.

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Gina Thornhill as Marijke and Ailsa Galbreath as Leah. (Stoo Metz)

There’s gonna be a Revolution (in craft)

mmorrow (All photos by Grace Leammler)

REVOLUTION, at the Mary E. Black Gallery through Nov. 4, is an intriguing, imaginative and powerful exhibit by Craft Nova Scotia members.

For this juried show the province’s top artisans explored the many intrepretations of the word revolution.

The 22 works range from the astonishingly-exquisite song sparrow’s nest of orbiting silver wire by jeweler Elizabeth Goluch to ceramic artist Carol Morrow’s quilt-inspired, revolutionary- red, text-patterned punchbowl and cups called Sisters Rising: Punch Set for the #Metoo Movement.

Political and playful rug hooker Laura Kenney also reacts to the #Metoo Movement. Her signature character, Judy, beats a drum as she marches with her black-robed sisters wearing pussy hats. A red dress without a figure symbolizes lost indigenous women and connects to Kenney’s written text, MMIW, referring to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

Ceramic artist Jim Smith’s delicate, whimsical, earthenware Set of Cake Plates for Marie Antoinette playfully looks at political upheaval with references to the queen’s famous misquote “Let Them Eat Cake” and some of her favourite things including cornflowers in a repeating motif.  There is sadly one woeful depiction of the guillotine.

Revolution can mean round and revolving which Alexandra McCurdy points to in her white stoneware Covered Jar and Bowl – round vessels in red and black with circles within circles on a background of dots like “planets orbiting the sun,” says McCurdy.
McCurdy
Karen LeBlanc’s Jacquard weaving based on photographs she took in New York of old sewing machines and spools of thread speaks to circles and revolving wheels. It also connects to Wilma Butts’ Pit Head Wheel, of discharged silk with felt backing,  and its reference to industrial and labour revolutions, specifically the history of industrial Cape Breton.

Louise Pentz’s weary, tubular figures out of stained, smoke and wood-fired clay, bound with rough linen, is a very powerful visual metaphor for community. Her statement for Better Together says it all: “We may be fragile, vulnerable and unsuited when we try to stand alone. But together we can change the world.”
Pentz
Bonnie Baker’s The Hand That Rocks the Nation is also a lovely, poetic piece with a barely visible blue hand taking a glowing white rock from a stack of stones. She references stones as building blocks, “the breaker of imposed limitations and stereotypes” and “the tool of revolution.”

Her process of a mid-19th century photographic printing process for a cyan-blue print  speaks to revolution in terms of technical change.

Also exhibiting are Catherine Beck, Marla Benton, Clare Bridge, Philip Doucette, Ray Mackie and Deb Kuzyk, Wendy Landry, Mindy Moore, Rachel Ryan, Marilyn Smulders, Isako Suzuki, Jessie Tesolin and Stephen Zwerling.

The gallery is open Saturday and Sunday, 11 to 4; Tuesday through Friday, 9 to 5.
Beck

The Little Years: magical, dark comedy about limited female roles

little years
Colleen MacIsaac as the thwarted scientist Kate is framed by, left, Christine Daniels as Grace and Mauralea Austin as Alice in Matchstick Theatre’s production of John Mighton’s The Little Years, on Oct. 13 and 14, 2 and 8 p.m., at the Bus Stop Theatre. (Samm Fisher)
Given the idea — or hope —  that young women today can do anything they want with their lives, John Mighton’s The Little Years is a throwback to a time when women’s roles were very limited.

The 1995 Canadian play, staged by Halifax’s Matchstick Theatre at the Bus Stop Theatre just through Sunday, is a sad, bitterly comic, occasionally magical story of an oddball teenager in the 1950s whose passion for physics is thwarted by her society, her school and her mother.

When she is steered away from science to stenography, a huge sigh is felt within the audience, for it knows nothing good can come of that.

The young Kate, in a glittering, exuberant performance by Kayla Gunn, evolves into the older Kate, an embittered, socially-hostile, spiritually-crushed woman in drab clothing who can’t hold a job and ends up briefly in a mental institution, forever crimped by her celebrity-poet brother.

Colleen MacIsaac brings a Sheldon Cooper-esque quality to this part as well as a real pathos. She suggests the glimmer of a candle within this frozen creature.  And in the end Kate sees she has a legacy.

Mighton, a mathematician as well as a playwright, wrote The Little Years as a plea to make sure kids reach their educational potential. The founder of the JUMP Math (Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies) program, he was asked by the Stratford Festival to expand his play in 2011.

Mighton pencilled in some of the side characters who revolve around Kate, which adds to the humour, though each character also faces disappointment as the years pass.

There is the lionized artist Roger (Matthew Lumley), the caring, environmentalist sister-in-law (Christine Daniels) and the loving but cutting mother Alice, in a wonderful, nuanced, sensitive and comically rich performance by Mauralea Austin.  (Also on stage in smaller roles are Amanda Mullally, Sean Skerry and Sam Vigneault.

Kate is fascinated by the nature of time and wonders if it is cyclical instead of linear, a concept that Mighton carries out beautifully in his structure and that is amplified in the direction.

This production, directed by Matchstick’s artistic director Jake Planinc, has a magical quality with a beautiful set piece of hanging disco balls like planets around the sun, lit in colourful flares by lighting designer Alison Crosby. (Other designers are Wes Babcock, set; Jordan Palmer, sound, and Kelsey Stanger, costumes, with a great hole-riddled sweater for Kate.

With its filmic writing, The Little Years needs a faster pace with quicker set changes. This production also suffers a bit from unevenness in acting levels but overall it’s well  worth seeing.

The Little Years runs 90 minutes including a 10- minute intermission today and Sunday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and $20 online (https://matchsticktheatre.ca/tickets/)

Matchstick is an emerging company founded in early 2017 to “revitalize” contemporary Canadian plays. Next up is Michael Melski’s Joyride Jan. 23 to 27 at the Scotiabank Theatre as part of Neptune Theatre’s Open Spaces program.

It’s interesting to reflect that Mighton covers in time the 1950s to the 70s to the 2000s, not little years at all, but years that have caused great damage to the world, in which increasingly scientists of both genders have not been supported or listened to, and in which women have not achieved equal power.

 

Scratch & Sniff Menu seriously smart and seductive

ELawrence Poster Image ScratchnSniff
Comfort food meets scratch and sniff technology in Emily Lawrence’s playful, poignant art exhibit about Alzheimer’s at the Craig Gallery, Alderney Landing.

The viewer steps on foot-shaped pieces of shag carpet, as cozy as old knitted slippers, to look at luscious photographs of 1950s and 1960s home-kitchen favourites that smell, when scratched, like apple pie, or birthday cake, or fresh white bread just out of the oven.

Lawrence, exhibiting Scratch & Sniff Menu through Oct. 7, was inspired by her grandmother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s to create an initial series of non-scratch and sniff photographs of her grandmother’s favourite foods which connected her to her fading memories.

For the scratch and sniff series, she worked with a group of residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s at Berkeley Halifax.

She asked them about their favourite foods “aided by my Betty Crocker cookbook collection and oodles of jam thumbprint cookies,” she says in her artist’s statement.

Lawrence explores how smell stimulates memory and how essential food and food preparation are to human life and memory. Many of the residents talked to her about how wonderful their mother’s cooking was.

This exhibit, with a pastel, colour scheme shared by the images, the foot pads and comfy stools, takes viewers to Grandma’s house, reminds them of their own childhood — that pink-iced birthday cake is a cultural touchstone – and, perhaps, also reminds them of reading Pat the Bunny to a sleepy child at bedtime.

Scratch & Sniff Menu is a wonderful example of sophisticated, intelligent art expressing an idea with humour and humanity in a way everyone can understand.

Lawrence is a NSCAD University graduate, an interdisciplinary artist living in Dartmouth and currently artist-in-residence at the Macphee Centre for Creative Learning.

Dartmouth metal sculptor Barbara Schmeisser is also exhibiting steel, flower sculptures — delicate, intricate and strong — in You, Me, Them . . . Us in the Craig Case Galleries.

This is a continuation of her 2017 series of plants found in Denmark and Canada with, she says,  “additional steel plant portrayals relevant to the theme of people’s response to plants be they iconic, common weed, native or transplant.”

She has been inspired by artists including Cal Lane, Elisabeth Brim, Alexander Calder, Giuseppe Penone and Claes Oldenburg.

NOTE: There is a huge Alexander Calder exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts through February.

Next week is very busy for The Craig Gallery with Blue Mondays Life Drawing Monday,  the  20th Annual Mosaic for Mental Health opening Oct. 11 and open for Nocturne, Oct. 13, 6 to midnight, which also features the Nostos Dance Collective with Women of 100 Faces in the market area and an interactive collaborative project, That Which We Cannot Own, in the theatre and rotunda.

The Bitterest Time: powerful N.S. drama about wartime heroine Mona Parsons

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Rachel Hastings as Wendy receives a potato from Amanda LeBlanc as Mona in The Bitterest Time: The War Story of Mona Parsons, by Andria Hill-Lehr and Sarah Jane Blenkhorn.  (Bruce Dienes)

The Bitterest Time: The War Story of Mona Parsons is a powerful, deeply affecting play about the resilience of the human spirit as two women struggle to survive in a Nazi prison cell.

Thanks to Wolfville writer Andria Hill-Lehr, the story of Nova Scotian Mona Parsons – the only female Canadian civilian to be imprisoned by the Nazis in Occupied Holland – has come to light.

The Middleton-born nurse and dancer for the Ziegfeld Follies in New York married a Dutch millionaire and, after harbouring Allied soldiers at her estate, was arrested by the Nazis when she was 41, first sentenced to execution and then, on appeal, to prison. She spent three years in Nazi prisons including at Vechta where she befriended a young baroness.

This is their story of friendship and endurance as Mona buoys Wendy’s spirits with her infectious humour, imagination and love of song, dance and poetry.

Beautifully structured as a narrative with flashbacks, The Bitterest Time starts with an unseen voice, that of Hill-Lehr on her journey to discover the personality of Parsons as she talks to the elderly, rigid and unfriendly Wendelien (in a fine performance by Carroll Godsman).

Wendelien reluctantly agrees to open the closed box on her war experience and reveal the astonishing, tough, loving, lively, artistic character of Mona Parsons.

This co-production by LunaSea Theatre and SarAndipity Theatre, which just wrapped a mini-tour of Nova Scotia, featured a remarkable performance by Amanda LeBlanc as Mona.

The actor had to climb mountains of brief joy and then burrow into the depths of despair as Mona struggles to keep her sanity and her will to live.  She needed to dance like a light-hearted sparrow then hobble on bloodied feet; she needed anger and she needed lyricism when Mona quotes from Emily Bronte’s poems (the source of the title).

The success of The Bitterest Time depends on the casting of Parsons and the young Wendelien, called Wendy. Director Ryanne Chisholm struck gold in the chemistry between LeBlanc and Rachel Hastings as the rigid, fierce 23-year-old Dutch woman reluctant to share her story or yield to the power of Mona’s imagination.

In focussing on Mona’s time in prison, this play traps its audience in the grimness of a cell with an excellent design in sets by Vickie Marston, lights by Vicky Williams, costumes by Noella Murphy and sound by Jenny Trites. You can almost feel the grime and see the little bird singing outside the cell window.

This production also featured the striking Sharleen Kalayil as a pregnant prisoner and nasty, apple-eating prison guard and the charming Garry Williams as Mona’s husband as well as the young Nova Scotian soldier, Clarence Leonard, who rescued Mona after she walked out of Germany. In fact, the real Clarence Leonard’s son attended this show.

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Garry Williams as Nova Scotia soldier Clarence Leonard giving the freed Mona Parsons a cup of tea. (Bruce Dienes)

Co-writers Hill-Lehr and Sarah Jane Blenkhorn, of SarAndipity, plan to present The Bitterest Time again. “Given the power of the story and the interest it attracts, we think that it has a future here, and beyond Nova Scotia as well,” says Blenkhorn.

That would be great because this is a woman’s war story, a Nova Scotian story and, as another glimpse into the horrors of war, a warning about the savagery of humans beings if their cruelty is left unchecked.

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Sharleen Kalayil as a prison guard with Amanda LeBlanc as Mona Parsons and Rachel Hastings as Wendy. (Bruce Dienes)

High and low tech meld in Onelight’s mesmerizing Asheq

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Onelight Theatre’s artistic director Shahin Sayadi is the actor, writer, director and scenographer, among other things, for Asheq: Ritual Music to Cure a Lover, at Halifax’s Sir James Dunn Theatre and Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre in December. (Onelight Theatre)

It’s amazing what one man can do with cloth, music and light.

In the hour-long Asheq: Ritual Music to Cure a Lover, Onelight Theatre’s artistic director Shahin Sayadi tells a Middle Eastern story as an enchantment of light and music with the basic pain of human experience.

His story is set in the hot sun by the sea on the Persian Gulf in a southern Iranian village where men dive for pearls and believe in a Zoroastrian goddess-figure of light, Mithra. They live in a world where light struggles with dark, good with evil.

Sayadi travelled to Spain and his native Iran to create Asheq with glorious, driving music commissioned from two, international musicians with southern Iranian roots: Habib Meftahoushehri and Mohsen Sharifian.

Sayadi was inspired by the East African and Persian traditions of southern Iran where modern Zar exorcism rituals are still held.

Sayadi creates an exotic world on a simple stage of sand with cement blocks and ropes to lift white, cloth walls that become, through light and moving image, heat, sun, sunset, the surface of the ocean and its watery depths.

The story is about a man whose simple path in life is interrupted by grief and about his son’s love for an outcast woman which leads to a Zar exorcism of ecstatic dancing, drumming and chanting.

Sayadi is gifted at moving from his main character into a woman and a young boy simply by shifting his body and using a length of cloth.

Anyone interested in theatrical lighting must see Asheq for its fantastic, lush, expressive lighting design by Mike Mader, with stunning yellows and chilly blots of grey and floods of red when the bad stuff happens.

Asheq is a fascinating mix of basic, primitive storytelling with a sophisticated technology involving light, live video and sound with digital technology by Jake Dambergs and projections designed by Mader.

It’s takes a while to relax and get into this mysterious world which becomes mesmerizing. Sometimes the music fights too much with Sayadi’s voice for attention.

Asheq straddles theatre and contemporary theatrical dance. It’s up to the viewer to decide what it is about exactly.

For me it is an insight into stories of the outcast, of one seeking refuge, of communities expelling who they perceive as evil, of the nature of family shame – concepts I like to think are old-fashioned but really are not.

Onelight Theatre takes this hour-long show to Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre Dec. 6 to 8. Its Halifax premiere is part of the Prismatic Arts Festival, an annual multi-disciplinary professional arts festival featuring work by Canada’s Indigenous and culturally diverse artists, running through Sunday in Halifax with a slew of music, theatre and art including a show on a bus. For Prismatic details go online (http://prismaticfestival.com/)Shauntay Grant launched her new book Africville at Prismatic and reads Saturday, 11 a.m. at Halifax Central Library as part of Word on the Street.